Friday, March 13, 2015

Mahabharata and the bargaining behaviour of Indian negotiators at global for a

Amrita Narlikar, international political economy scholar at University of Cambridge, and Aruna Narlikar, a Sanskrit scholar and a freelance journalist, have come up with a book titled, “Bargaining with a Rising India Lessons from the Mahabharata” (Oxford University Press; 2014; Price: Rs 795) to study from a Western point of view as to why India is such a tough nit to crack, whether it is at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations, or at the United Nations or with countries like the United States during the civil nuclear deal.

India is berated for being moralistic, for being a perpetual nay-sayer and as someone looking for gaining maximum advantages without yielding an inch. The authors using modern terminology defining negotiation behaviour describe the Indian way as that of “distributive bargaining” in contrast to the “integrative”.

The distributive bargaining mode is described as “start high, concede slowly, exaggerate the value of concessions, minimize the benefits of the other's concessions, conceal information, argue forcefully on behalf of principles that imply favoured settlements, make commitments only to accept highly favourable agreements, and be willing to outwait the other fellow”. The “integrative bargaining” approach involves “attempts to exchange information relatively freely, understanding the other party's real needs and objectives, emphasising commonalities and shared interests, searching for mutually beneficial solutions”.

The authors admit that no country or group pursues only one method of bargaining but chooses one or the other according to the context, and even combines the two. They give the example of Nehru taking the Kashmir issue to the UN. They argue: “ At first glance, this may well appear as a move towards integrative bargaining; after all, what could be a better way of securing mutually beneifically solutions than seeking the help of an impartial international arbiter.? In actuality, this was not the case. While India maintained a sensible strategic caution against escalating the situation to a full-blown war in haste, its appeal to the Security Council was not for mediation but to order Pakistan to withdraw its troops.”

India's position at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is described as positive but its position at the WTO as that of a wrecker.

The authors believe that the character traits of India's negotiating strategy is rooted in its culture and history, and that not enough attention has been paid to understand this aspect. They cite the example of scholars looking at Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese author, whose military precepts are used to understand the Chinese approach. They feel, in the Indian case, the Mahabharata could provide the clues. So, they have picked up several stories and episodes from the ancient epic which reveal negotiating positions and then connect it with the present-day India style of negotiators.

The argument is that Western negotiators must understand the Indian cultural mindset to make sense of India's negotiating positions. This is a book meant for a Western readership, but it can be read by Indians as well, with great satisfaction.

The episodes sketched in the book are familiar but they use the quotations from the Critical Edition of the Mahabharata prepared by the Bhandarkar Institute in Pune. The reader has an opportunity to get familiarised with the original text, however scattered it may be.

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